"We had a high IQ": Hibs boss Lee Johnson admits selection gamble paid off after fitness doubts around key men

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Lee Johnson has challenged his senior players to drive the club forward and said his team selection was a gamble that paid off against Motherwell.

Johnson opted to start with Aiden McGeady, Kyle Magennis and hat-trick hero Kevin Nisbet at Fir Park, despite doubts that any of them could complete the full 90 minutes. But his selection was vindicated with a 3-2 victory which moves his team up a place in the table.

“Listen that was a risk,” said the Hibs boss, who also explained that he left Paul Hanlon on the bench because of slight concerns about the defender’s hamstring. “We had a high IQ, no doubt about that, and we had more gravitas but we lacked a bit of trust in the lungs. I went for it in this game because I wanted to try to go one or two up and potentially hold it, and it worked nicely.”

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He added: “The win was the most important thing. The way the other results went, it launches us back in touch and gets us away from where we don't want to be. I didn't think the boys played with a lack of confidence, which I was really pleased with after taking a bit of stick and rightly so. We celebrated, both players and staff in the dressing room, and I think we can really be successful this season but we’ve got to keep chipping away and getting our best players minutes and getting them fit and we have to do our best to drive the club forward on the training pitch and off the training pitch.”

Hibs manager Lee Johnson celebrates at full time. Picture: Mark Scates / SNSHibs manager Lee Johnson celebrates at full time. Picture: Mark Scates / SNS
Hibs manager Lee Johnson celebrates at full time. Picture: Mark Scates / SNS

Johnson believes his decision to hold Nisbet back before the World Cup break has also paid off. The striker has now scored five goals in five games since his return after ten months out with an ACL injury. Johnson said he could have been risked in early November, but was held back to get him fully up to speed after such a long absence.

He explained: “Remember those couple of games before the break when I was annoyed at myself and felt I maybe should have played him? That was the reason why. It allied us to give him the extra month to hone his sharpness levels and I am really happy for him. You need your best players fit at any club but especially at a club of our size. It becomes really important that those guys play and deliver.

“I am delighted for him because he has worked really hard and the staff have worked really hard to get him back. That's five goals in five games now and even half of that form will get us in a successful place by the end of the season."

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Hibs host Dundee United next week and Johnson is confident another victory can build momentum going into the next Edinburgh derby against Hearts in the Scottish Cup.

He added: “Yeah, you can put a run together. I think the thing in Scotland is that you can get caught with a tricky run of fixtures and then you get some that can be a bit kinder. But if you don't win the ones that could be kinder, then it becomes a problem and it can catch up with you. Listen, we are not a bad team and we are improving steadily. The sum of the parts hasn't been perfect over the last six or seven weeks. But, hopefully, Martin Boyle aside, we have players back and firing.”

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